It’s become clear in the last few months that when isolated for an extended period of time, people crave connection — both romantic and platonic. On Facebook, matchmaking groups are giving Jewish singles a way to stay entertained and make connections during quarantine.
Facebook matchmaking groups for single Jewish individuals are nothing new, but they have exploded in popularity during the pandemic. Before, these groups mostly catered to older singles and those in the more religious shidduch process, but the new and emerging groups appeal to younger and more secular Jews.
The largest of these groups is MeetJew University Dating, which stemmed from Zoom University Hillel. Founded by Aaron Raimi, a student in San Diego, MeetJew has grown to have over almost 40,000 members in a little over a month.
“This has just exploded so rapidly. The success and outpouring of support and positivity has been amazing,” Raimi told me over the phone. Members find matches through the weekly MeetJew IQ survey, filling out information such as observance level, hobbies, political stance, and geographic location — in addition to the nearly 300 posts per day of biographies and photos.
MeetJew University is restricted to those aged 18 to 26, but Raimi and his team also created two offshoot groups gearing toward older members: MeetJew Post-Grad and MeetJew Professional. They also recently launched MeetJew Social, a space for interactions beyond dating.
“I’ve gotten quite a few messages from people [with success stories],” Raimi said. “This girl reached out to me [recently] and was like, ‘Thank you so so much, I found my future boyfriend.’”
Another popular group is CoronaCrush, with over 11,000 members. CoronaCrush, having no age limits, tends to gear older, with most of the posts being from members in their late 20s and 30s.
Bracha Rapaport, who co-founded CoronaCrush, said that when the pandemic started, her and her friends “felt it was the best time to create a community of people who are happy to post their close friends and help them find true love.”
“It was important for us to create a space that would make singles feel empowered and proactive about finding love during these uncertain times … in a positive environment encouraging people to share fun and lighthearted posts about single friends they admire most,” Rapaport said.
Rapaport also told me she knows of several people who met on the group and talk on a daily basis. “It does look like there are some bonds that might last after this pandemic is over,” she said.
There’s also Love is Quarantine (Jew Edition), a play on the popular Netflix reality show.
Love is Quarantine (Jew Edition) was created by three New York City women who wanted a Jewish edition of the viral online project. Contestants fill out a short form with their religious affiliation, age, and personality, and then participate in two rounds of video-free Zoom speed dating in breakout rooms. If two people choose each other in the feedback form, they match and continue into the next round.
“It’s too early to say if matches will remain together, but many decided to continue speaking after the experiment ended. The main feedback we have received is how refreshing it is to talk to new people in a pressure-free environment,” said Sam Feldman, the team’s “technologist” and a graphic designer. “Dating in quarantine isn’t easy, and we’re excited to provide another option for people seeking new love connections.”
However, some members said they are finding these groups to be toxic environments. The nature of the groups means that some people get an obviously larger amount of likes and comments than others, creating an environment of competition and insecurity for some.
“I noticed that some girls were getting tons of comments and likes and others were not,” said Asya Artikaslan, a student at the University of Oregon (and an Alma Ambassador), about MeetJew University.
Artikaslan thought the group was entertaining when it first began, but has since stopped looking at it. She said she found the group to be toxic because she noticed a pattern of objectification.
“Every single post talked about finding your NJB or NJG. I just kind of hate the term nice Jewish girl because of how misogynistic it is. It promotes that women have to be nice and ‘submissive’ for a man to find them attractive. The same thing for NJB, it promotes toxic masculinity and the idea that a man has to be the caretaker/provider,” Artikaslan said.
Being the largest of these matchmaking groups, MeetJew University has attracted the most controversy. Group members who spoke to Alma mentioned observing homophobic comments, a lack of diversity, and body- and religious observance-shaming.
Toby Klein, a PhD student at the University of Arkansas, said she has noticed a lot of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric in the group. Klein, who is bisexual, originally joined MeetJew because she was newly single and looking for a space to connect with other Jews. Klein said she’s found most of the inappropriate comments are coming from men, who find it funny to tag their openly straight male friends on men’s posts. She also noted several occasions when a person’s identity has been disclosed publicly without their consent.
“There have been blatantly pejorative slurs used in the group, and seemingly no accountability. A lot of this has manifested in the comments section, but blatantly bigoted statements have also been in posts — a space that admins and moderators are supposedly monitoring,” Klein said.
Raimi said multiple people have reached out to him about this issue, and that they are committed to making the group a harassment-free space.
“Whenever those comments are reported, we remove them immediately and the people who make them are muted or blocked. It violates our rules of harassment and bullying, and we don’t tolerate that,” he said.
One step they are taking, Raimi added, is bringing on moderators from different, diverse communities to make the group a more inclusive space. He said that due to the size of the group, it’s important for group members to report harassment when they see it.
“We get thousands of posts on the group and tons of comments. We can’t go through every comment and post, so we have to rely on our members to report problematic comments,” he said.
Klein said Jews, as a minority group, have a responsibility to look out for each other. “It’s incumbent on those in positions of privilege to speak up for those with less social capital. Self-monitoring needs to come from within, otherwise we risk the problem being monitored by those outside of our community, which can further create anti-Semitism.”
Klein said she has made wonderful connections with women through the group, and has found that “99 percent” of the group’s members are nice and supportive. “However, the small 1 percent have held a large presence that has prevented others from feeling safe, and that needs to be addressed,” she said.
“Regardless of why people are engaging in bigotry, there is no excuse for it … In a time of such incredible anti-Semitism in the world, it’s incumbent the change start from within,” Klein said.
“This is an unprecedented time for people right now. People are craving connection, which makes sense why people are using the MeetJew group, even if they aren’t seeking dating. Some are seeking validation, and others just want people to laugh at their memes.”
Header image design by Grace Yagel; background image by Rodin J_art / Getty Images.